Three Indicted For Scheme To Facilitate Evasion Of Workers’ Compensation Laws And Employment Of Undocumented Aliens In Construction Industry
Jacksonville, Florida – Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announces the unsealing of an <a href="https://www.justice.gov/usao-mdfl/press-release/file/954131/download" target="_blank"; length=254897">indictmentcharging Orlando residents Anyi (“Angie”) Artica-Romero (31), Joaquin Mejia-Murillo (62), and Milton Noel Romero (34) with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Artica-Romero is charged in 56 counts, Mejia-Murillo is charged in 1 count, and Romero is charged in 6 counts. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison. The indictment also notifies the defendants that the United States intends to seek forfeiture of approximately $812,000, which is the amount of proceeds obtained as a result of the offenses.
According to the indictment, Mejia-Murillo registered a corporation called JM Construction Services, Inc. with the State of Florida. He then applied for a workers’ compensation insurance policy for September 2015 through September 2016 to cover six employees and an estimated annual payroll of $140,800.
The insurance company issued the policy for an annual premium of $17,152 based on the payroll information set forth in the application. Subsequent amendments to the policy resulted in its covering 19 employees and an estimated payroll of $410,800, at a revised premium of $38,860.
Under Florida law, any business that engages in construction work must secure and maintain workers’ compensation insurance, and the failure to do so is a felony. Construction contractors must require subcontractors to provide proof that they have workers’ compensation insurance.
Artica-Romero and Mejia-Murillo “rented” the JM Construction insurance policy to numerous contractors and subcontractors who employed hundreds of workers, many of whom are suspected of being undocumented aliens. To do so, they directed the insurance agent to send a certificate of insurance to the contractors and subcontractor as purported proof of sufficient workers’ compensation insurance.
The contractors and subcontractors wrote payroll checks to JM Construction for work performed by their employees. Mejia-Murillo then cashed the checks and gave the money to Artica-Romero to pay the workers. Artica-Romero kept four percent of each check as a fee for their services.
Between September 2015 and August 2016, Artica-Romero and Mejia-Murillo cashed payroll checks totaling $9,419,965, with their four percent fee totaling $376,798. No state or federal payroll taxes were deducted from the workers’ pay. The annual premium for a workers’ compensation insurance policy covering a payroll of $9,419,965 would have been approximately $1,088,078.
On August 4, 2016, the State of Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Workers’ Compensation, served a Stop-Work Order on JM Construction alleging that it had failed to secure the payment of workers’ compensation by materially understating or concealing payroll. Subsequently, Mejia-Murillo left the country for Honduras.
To continue the scheme, Artica-Romero began working with Milton Romero, who had registered a company called Milton Statewide General Services, Inc., with the State of Florida. Romero, on behalf of Milton Statewide, obtained workers’ compensation insurance to cover six employees and an estimated payroll of $100,000 for an annual premium of $20,002. A certificate of insurance was issued and then “rented” to numerous contractors and subcontractors, in the same way that JM Construction’s certificate had been rented.
Between August 2016 and March 11, 2017, Artica-Romero and Romero cashed payroll checks totaling $10,883,772, with their four percent fee totaling $435,351. Again, no state or federal payroll taxes were deducted from the workers’ pay. The annual premium for a workers’ compensation insurance policy covering a payroll of $10,883,772 would have been approximately $1,750,453.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of one or more federal criminal laws, and every defendant is presumed innocent unless, and until, proven guilty.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations and the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Investigative and Forensic Services. It will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Arnold B. Corsmeier.